All students invited to speak and listen at the Langara Talking Circle

Elder in residence facilitates dialogue


By Etuviere Mrakpor

Long before Langara was a college, Musqueam people did talking circles.  

Langara college is built on traditional Musqueam territory, and the Elder in Residence Mary Jane Joe, aka Nk’xetko, facilitates the Langara Talking Circle.  

Talking circles are gathering places for people to share their thoughts or listen to the thoughts of others. Outside of pandemic times, they are conducted in person, sitting in a circle, passing a talking stick. These days Joe hosts bi-weekly talking circles over Zoom, where she invites Langara students to speak openly. 

Some people speak and others listen, according to their needs.  

Joe said 30 years ago when she was a student at UBC, there were about 350 Indigenous students on campus. They would get together at the First Nations House of Learning once a week for a talking circle and potluck, led by the late Squamish Chief Simon Baker.  

Joe says she was too uncomfortable to speak at her first few talking circles. In contrast “There were some people who talked for one hour.” 

A talking circle near you

The Langara Talking Circle was created for much the same reason. 

Shyanne Boudreau, coordinator of Indigenous education and services at Langara, explained the college set aside certain programs exclusively for Indigenous students. “We do have closed ceremonies that only Indigenous students are invited to.”  

The talking circle, on the other hand, is open to all students “To serve the community at large and create those opportunities for connection and to create more space for understanding.” 

Her last semester before retiring from teaching at LangaraJoe hosted a circle outside the library. Five students walked by, and asked what they were all doing. Joe told them they were having a talking circle and invited them to join. This particular circle they did a circle dance, and then they talked. 

It turned out the five students were international students. One of them said, “We’ve been in Canada for four days and you’re the only ones that have welcomed us.” 

Joe said when she was in residential school, she was never encouraged to speak her mind. She says as a result of being silenced, she is a quiet and reserved person. 

“This is where a talking circle is very beneficial, because there is time to sit, and relax, and listen, and wait.” 

When asked if the right people find the Talking Circle when they need it, Joe responded, “Oh yeah.” 

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